Customary Marriages in South Africa


In South Africa, customary marriages were not recognized until 1998 when the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 12 of 1998 (the Act) was passed.

Parties would previously negotiate lobola and conclude their marriages which marriages were under the law not recognized.

According to this Act, all marriages that were concluded before or after the commencement of this Act, whether or not one party is in more than one marriage, for as long as they meet the requirements of this Act, then their marriages are recognized as valid marriages.

However before a marriage can be recognized, it must be registered with registering officer.

In order for a marriage that was entered before this Act to be recognized then same should have been registered within a period of a year after the publication of the Act unless the minister has published a different period thereafter.

A marriage entered after this Act must be registered within 3(three) months of its conclusion. A certificate of proof of customary marriage is issued upon registration.

If a customary marriage is not registered, any person with interest may apply for registration of that marriage for as long as she or he can prove its existence.

The customary marriage is recognized even if it is not registered. It must be noted that it is easier and quicker to proof a registered marriage than the marriage that is not registered.

This Act also gives spouses equal powers unlike before where the wife was regarded as a minor.

Whereas Marriages entered into after the Act are regarded as Community Of Property and of profit and loss unless specifically stipulated, spouses who Married before the Act are required to apply to court for a change of their marriage property system.

These marriages can only be dissolved by a court of law.